Max sits on the windowsill of his St. Paul home, staring longingly out at the street he no longer has the freedom to roam.
Since rocketing to viral fame, the orange tabby known for frequenting the Macalester College library — and then getting banned from it, Max has become an indoor cat. Paw thing.
He gazes at the street, and late at night he howls — withdrawal symptoms for his addiction to fresh air and musty old books.
But on a recent winter morning, his human, Connie Lipton, took Max out of the house, strapped into a handsome red-and-black harness. She loaded him into her Mazda, with Max perched looking out the rear window, and took him to a nearby bookstore.
Max rose to national prominence last month after a cutesy sign appeared at the Macalester library that warned people not to let him in. Max had previously been spotted on security cameras, roaming the stacks.
It came out that Max was something of a campus celebrity. In addition to the library, he’d been visiting students in the science building, language buildings and dormitories on the other side of campus. He even had a private audience with the Macalester president, which was captured on film, of course.
But a construction project near his house, and an allergic library worker, made Max’s free-range travels no longer feasible.
While not everyone agreed that a cat should have been allowed into any building he desired, one local business made its allegiance known. In the days after Max went famous, Hal Johnson, who owns the Against the Current used-book store, drew “Welcome Max” on the chalkboard outside his Grand Avenue shop.
That’s where Lipton took Max, who was met by an entourage of Macalester groupies who had gotten to know him on his formerly untethered neighborhood outings.
The curious kitty wasted no time making himself at home. He climbed up into the window display, sniffed a book on “Americans From Norway” and nibbled on a lantern. Lipton whipped out a book of her own, “On Cats,” by Doris Lessing, which Max dutifully rubbed his face on.
Macalester student Ming Lian filmed the encounter, and the video will become part of a YouTube series on Max’s visits to Twin Cities bookstores and libraries. Lian, who lives in the French house, knows Max well. “He probably slept in everybody’s bed,” she said.
Lipton hopes the videos will “keep him in the eye of remembrance,” even as Max’s viral fame subsides. She wants to get Max trained as a therapy cat for college students, and eventually turn his following into a movement.
“If this energy keeps moving, I’d like to start a foundation for literacy,” she said.
She’s also had Max consult with an animal communicator, a type of psychic, who is helping him deal with his new indoor status — as well as his newfound fame.
Lipton learned that Max “basically was very excited about doing all these things.”
While Max was indiscriminate with his campus visits, he’s become associated with books thanks to library worker Chris Schommer, who wrote the now renowned sign banning Max (with illustrator Gamze Genc Celik). Schommer signed with an agent following Max’s stardom and is writing a children’s book based on Max’s story.
“Max likes people, and the library is at the crossroads of campus,” said Schommer, who had joined Max on his trip to Against the Current. “He likes that hub of activity.”
But is there something special about books that draws Max in? Johnson, the book shop owner, deferred to Max on that one. “I can’t speak for the cat,” he said.